While squeezing, place the unit into position on the gear.(Having big horsey fingers like mine can make this a little bit tougher to accomplish.)

When replacing the pawl and spring into the gear, first put the spring into position within the pawl and squeeze as shown. While squeezing, place the unit into position on the gear.

(Having big horsey fingers like mine can make this a little bit tougher to accomplish.)

To separate the 2nd gear set, just pull the two gears apart. However, before separating, it is safer to flip over the gear set so the gear that was on top is now on the bottom. This way, when the two are pulled apart, the gear holding the pawls is easily visible, allowing you to keep an eye on any parts that look like they are about to fly.

Lift off the top cap. Underneath the top cap you’ll find a 2-piece collet.

Unscrew the four top cap machine screws. This step can be quite different for other Lewmar series/models winches and other brands.

Below is a photo sequence of a mid-late 1980s model, Lewmar 40 self-tailing winch being taken apart and serviced. This is a very popular model, that is found on a good portion of production built sailboats on the water today. Though you may not have Lewmar winches, the overall process is similar for most winches. The parts in yours may look a bit different, and there may be a few things specific to each winch, whether another brand or another Lewmar series or size, the pictures below can help you understand the involvement required to properly service a winch. Most times this service is done right on board, since removal of the winch can sometimes be impractical. But, frankly, a winch that can be serviced off the boat, on a bench, allows for much more thorough cleaning and inspection. If yours can easily be removed, take them home over the winter for better access (and no concerns about losing pieces overboard). Or, if this process looks like too much for you, send them to us. This is what we’ll be doing to them:

That was easy, right?

If you don’t think so, we can do it for you for $69.00 per Lewmar winch (up to size 40) and a few dollars more for other brands. It really is a bargain considering the time and effort involved.

Screw on the top cap, stick a winch handle in it and crank it both ways to make sure it turns smoothly.  You’re done!

Rotate the stripper arm until the threaded holes line up with the openings in the collet halves.

Stick your finger into the center and lift up on the main spindle to allow the collets to slip completely into position. The 2 halves should be virtually touching on both ends. (see next)

Note: Try to dry any solvent/degreaser left over on the parts before applying the new lubricant, so it doesn’t start to work against that as well. Spraying with compressed air will help to dry it. (You can use the same can you use to spray down your computer keyboard if you don’t have a compressor handy.)

After every piece is clean and dry, it’s time to lubricate each, and reassemble.....

Here, we see the pawls sticking out. Difficult to see are the pawl springs which are holding the pawl in that position. To remove the pawls, you must compress the springs and slide the pawls and springs out as one piece. We’ll get to that in a minute. First we’ll separate the other gear set.

a Winch

Written by Doug Ely


Quality Care for the Finest Yacht. Yours.


The main spindle should now be free to pull out from the bottom or the top (depending on winch type).

Depending on how long it’s been since the previous service, or how much lubricant was used, you should find everything in fairly acceptable condition as we found with this winch..

The stripper arm is now just resting in position. Lift it off the main spindle to remove it. There could be a little sticking if there is a lot of old grease inside. Give it a good yank upward if nec.

DO NOT OVERDO IT WITH GREASE! The key word in the last frame was LIGHTLY. Too much grease will just collect more dirt and make the next service take twice as long. Cleaning caked on dirty grease can take hours. Note the lightly greased  gears in the picture, ready for reassembly.  

Lightly lubricate every single piece using Lewmar winch grease. Use a paint brush to brush it evenly onto and around each moving part, which includes all gears, gear teeth, bearings, spindles, etc. If it moves or rides against something that moves, lightly grease it, except pawl springs and pawls as stated earlier.

Separate the 1st gear set. Slight spring tension holds the smaller pawl gear into the larger gear. As you pull up on the smaller gear, the spring-tensioned pawls that are seated within that gear will spring out as they clear the edge of the lower gear. Be careful they don’t fall out of their seat yet. Sometimes, if there is a broken pawl spring, the pawls can fall out when pulled up. So if working around the water, make sure you have the area contained.

Slide the bushings off the spindle and inspect for cracks. Note location of bushings before sliding off to be sure they are put back in the same area along the shaft upon reassembly.

Reach in and grab the large gear and pull it out of its seat. The whole gear set will come out with it.

The bearing set can now be removed. Sometimes it’s three bearings, sometimes only two. In this case, there are two bearings and a spacer between them. They will all lift off together when lifted up from the bottom bearing. These two bearings are interchangeable. Do not worry which went on top and which on bottom.

Install drum and stripper arm together. Be sure to align the stripper arm so that it slips over the extended piece between the top and bottom tailers. When installing the drum, you may need to wiggle it back and forth a little so the teeth on the inside bottom of the drum engage the gear sets. It should slip into position easily.

Reinstall each piece as it came out. Place each of the two gear sets into position, insert its spindle and then lightly tap the spindle so the top sits down into the inset flush with the surrounding surface (not shown).

Don’t forget to remove the spindle bushings from inside the gear sets to inspect and clean.

Be sure to clean all old grease from every surface on every part. A wire brush and/or small wire wheel on a drill is sometimes helpful for getting in between the gear teeth. Use only the  paint brush and cleaner to clean the bearings which are encased in plastic cages. After each piece is cleaned, closely inspect it for any abnormal damage or excessive wear.

Remove 2nd gear set. It too, will come out as one unit, but again, be careful. The bottom gear can easily separate, with pawls and springs flying every which way. Hold both gears together as they are removed.

Underneath the bearing set is a flat bushing. It may not be obvious due to grease build up. Remove this by lightly lifting the edge with a screwdriver or knife blade to break any seal (from lubricant). It will easily slide up and off the spindle

Separate the two halves of the collet from the main spindle (that is resting on it) using a screwdriver blade and remove each half

A Step-by-Step Guide

Serving Long Island Sound to the Caribbean and Beyond, since 2001

Insert the main spindle back into the housing. Then temporarily install one piece of the collet through the slot on the housing into the groove on the spindle to hold it at the correct height. You may need to pull up a bit on the spindle a touch to align the opening in the housing to line up with the groove on the spindle.

Remove the 2nd set of pawls from their gear set as previously described a few steps back.

Here we can see the pawl and pawl spring separately. The two arms of the pawl spring are what you will need to squeeze toward the other as mentioned in the previous instruction, to allow the spring and pawl out of their seat.

Once the bushing is removed, the tops of two gear spindles are exposed. (Smaller winches will only have one.) Work a screwdriver blade in under the lip of either of the spindles and gently pry it up.

The stripper arm is now just resting in position. Lift it off the main spindle to remove it.


Remove the piece of collet that was temporarily holding up the main spindle. Now install the bearings and spacer on the main shaft housing. Don’t forget to put the flat bushing down before installing the bearings and spacer .

To remove each pawl, reach in with a scribe or small screwdriver to compress one side of the pawl spring arm against the pawl as shown here, then lift out the pawl and spring together while squeezing. This is normally where you will lose a spring, so cup your other hand over the whole process to catch the spring if it tries to take off. Remove all pawls in the same manner. See the next photo for a better view of the spring..

Pull it all the way out. Once removed, the gear set that resides on it will be free. Be careful the gears don’t fall out if you are working on an angle.

NOTE: Though pawl springs may look okay upon inspection, they do get weaker over time. Replace them with new ones at least every couple years. They are only a couple bucks each. Also, be sure the pawl ends (where they contact the gear) have not become too worn. This can cause winch slippage.If there is any question, replace the pawl.

Use LEWMAR Pawl Oil (or 3 in 1 oil in a pinch) to lubricate the pawls and springs.


the pawls or springs!

Clean all parts. Use mineral spirits, kerosene, and or a good quality degreaser. Acetone is okay on the metal parts, but do not allow acetone to touch any plastic piece. Use a throw-away paint brush to get into all the nooks and crannies of every single piece.

Now repeat the process by removing the 2nd gear set spindle just like you did on the first one. Lift under lip with screwdriver again to pry up and out.